Both the federal government and the opposition have been accused of “shameful” inaction in failing to end age discrimination in the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Key points:

  • When NDIS was introduced in 2013, the Labor government amended the Age Discrimination Act to allow the scheme to exclude people older than 65
  • Despite repeated requests, both major parties have refused to remove the age barrier
  • Disability advocacy groups say they will target marginal seats in relation to the issue at the federal election

In 2018 Chris English suffered a fall on his 69th birthday that left him a quadriplegic.

Because of his age he did not qualify for the NDIS, and for the last three years of his life wife, Bobbie, was his full-time carer.

Mr English was placed on the Aged Care Service, which offered him little more than $50,000 — a sixth of what he could have been on under the NDIS.

“In our case we were lucky we could rely on family and friends, but he was frustrated to see the things that people on the NDIS were given,” Mrs English said.

When the NDIS was introduced in 2013, the Labor government moved to amend the Age Discrimination Act to allow the NDIS scheme to exclude people older than 65.

Five women stand behind a man in a wheelchair.

In 2019 the Englishes travelled to Canberra to support a petition presented by Zali Steggall on the issue.(Supplied: Zali Steggall)

Call for ‘gumption’

In 2019 the couple travelled to Canberra to support a petition presented to the parliament by independent MP Zali Steggall, which called for the NDIS to be extended beyond the age of 65.

Richard Colbeck, then the minister for aged care and senior Australians, said at the time that there were no plans to “change the threshold” of the original design.

Chris English died on January 3, and Mrs English said she made a promise to her husband that she would continue the fight to have the age barrier removed.

“All it needs is for someone to have the gumption to get up and say, ‘This was wrong in 2013,'” she said.

A man stands in NSW parliament, speaking at the dispatch box.

Kiama MP Gareth Ward has condemned the federal government for failing to remove the NDIS age barrier.(ABC Illawarra)

Discrimination ‘enshrined’

On the last day of the NSW parliamentary inquiry this year, Kiama MP Gareth Ward paid tribute to Mr English and condemned the federal government for failing to resolve the issue.

“This is inherently wrong,” Mr Ward said.

“The Commonwealth Government has enshrined aged discrimination in the supports it provides to different Australians.”

Mr Ward said the government could easily resolve the situation.

“By providing either an exemption for people aged over 65 who have an accident or illness to be supported under the NDIS, or for My Aged Care to better cater for those with profound and complex disability unrelated to ageing,” he said.

“I know that Bobbie would dearly love for Chris’s long‑term legacy to right this utter wrong, to change this unfair policy, to ensure there is greater choice and control for disabled older Australians.”

Two women cuddle a man who is being treated in hospital.

Chris English with his daughter Kristie and wife Bobbie.(GoFundMe)

‘Not about blame’

Spinal Life Australia has been campaigning for years to remove the age barrier.

“It’s just shameful, it is shocking,” the organisation’s Ross Duncan said.

“Australians would not believe that people over the age of 65 are being actively discriminated against from joining such a good scheme.

“We’ve got people who have to sleep in their wheelchairs.

“They have not got enough money for a support worker because they can not do it themselves, they end up sleeping in a wheelchair four nights out of seven.

“This is not about blame — this is about fixing it.

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Disability advocates fight to end NDIS funding age discrimination(Michael Vincent)

‘Longstanding policy’

Mr Duncan said a petition for change has already gathered 20,000 signatures and that advocates would target marginal seats over the issue in the coming federal election.

A spokesperson for NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds said when the scheme was designed to avoid replacing services already provided through the health or aged care systems when it was established.

“The legislation put forward by the Gillard government in 2012 to establish the NDIS, with bipartisan support, reflects this recommendation and is a longstanding policy,” the spokesperson said.

Labor MP Fiona Phillips, who holds the marginal seat of Gilmore on the NSW South Coast, says the aged care system should be providing home care packages.

“They should have access to care that they need,” she said.

Ms Phillips said she has highlighted the issue within parliament and has requested Opposition NDIS spokesman Bill Shorten respond to the concerns.

Widow of man paralysed on 69th birthday says NDIS threshold has ‘got to be fixed’
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